Inadequate transmission capacity continues to hinder Pakistan’s renewable energy growth

It has been more than 10 years since Pakistan introduced its Policy for Development of Renewable Energy 2006. The policy envisages adding a minimum of 9,700 MW of renewable energy sources (excluding large hydro) by 2030. However, the growth of renewables in the country has been fairly limited as the current share of renewables in country’s energy mix is less than 2% (as shown in the table below), although investments in wind and solar have picked up in the past few years.

Pakistan’s Power Generation Mix (including K-Electric), 2015–2016

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Recently, for an Asian Development Bank funded study, I interviewed several Solar PV IPP developers and officials from key public sector institutions in the power sector. The objective of the study was to identify a time slice snapshot of the barriers constraining growth of solar energy in Pakistan.

Insufficient grid infrastructure to evacuate power from the incoming power projects was identified as the key barrier limiting the growth of solar projects in Pakistan. Our transmission infrastructure has critically lagged behind in transmitting the available generation capacity efficiently, and in accepting and transporting new sources of power.

National Transmission Despatch Company has the most important role in RE integration as it has to ensure that its transmission facilities are available to evacuate power from the new generation plants. Moreover, it has to keep upgrading its existing system periodically for catering to the increased load demand by distribution companies.

USAID commissioned a study in 2014 to determine the limit of integrating renewables into the grid into the national grid. As per the GOPA study, 2,200 MW of wind and solar projects could be integrated by 2016–2017. A few major system reinforcements and additional transmission lines at Lal Suhanra, Jhimpir, and Gharo would enable the system to integrate up to 4,067 MW of variable renewable energy up to 2019–2020. However, several major system upgrades would be required at 500 kV, 220 kV, and 132 kV to integrate the planned 9,400 MW by 2030.

Out of the planned renewable capacity, a total of 1,086 MW of solar and wind projects have already come online to date, and an additional 3,600 MW is expected to be commissioned by 2020–2021. Thus, federal government, including NTDC, has expressed caution against any further addition of RE as availability of sufficient financial resources to undertake the required reinforcement remains a challenge for them.

However, what most of them fail to mention is that the GOPA study also concluded that even without considering lost GDP value due to load shedding, variable renewable energy integration is expected to reduce costs compared with a system without additional variable renewable energy. Thus, in no way does the study recommend limiting the share of RE. On the contrary, it provides a list of key technical interventions which will enable system and grid operator to add more RE.

The total cost for upgrading of the transmission system for grid connection of the foreseen wind and solar power is estimated as $360 million. 71% will be required for the connection of the wind parks in the south of the country and 29% for the solar parks.

ADB is working extensively with NTDC and distribution companies to enhance the transmission and distribution infrastructure. World Bank is also considering a project for strengthening transmission infrastructure. It is absolutely imperative that the government prioritizes increasing transmission capacity as its inadequacy remains the on of the biggest bottlenecks of the power sector.







2 Replies to “Inadequate transmission capacity continues to hinder Pakistan’s renewable energy growth”

  1. For PV, distributed solar power is a better solution for Pakistan compared to utility scale, which is more suited for CSP. PV’s low capacity utilization (about 18%) does not justify the large transmission system investment which must be large enough to meet peak outputs which happen on for a few hours. In contrast, the home/commercial solar is less cost-intensive, mobilizes private funding and engages all segments of society. For this, net-metering scheme needs to be actively promoted by DISCOs.


    1. Net metering has been initiated in all DISCOs of Punjab and the rules and regulations are being further modified to make it easier and cost effective for consumers to invest in. Provincial governments are working on micro grids and off grid solar. However, utility scale solar (up to 50 MW project capacity) projects should also be pursued especially in provinces like Balochistan and Punjab with high solar irradiance. With prices of solar pv coming down substantially, solar is fast becoming competitive with coal and natural gas power. Battery storage in the next few years is going to become commercially viable. R&D in renewables technology and ancilliary services will help mitigate the reliability issue of renewables.


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